Gloucester Kindertransport: local support for refugees, yesterday and today

This is the fourth and final project which is part of our partnership with the City Voices programme of the Gloucester History Festival. Undergraduate students in History at the University of Gloucestershire are undertaking a number of local history projects for 2022, and in this case they examine Gloucester’s role in the organized rescue of children from Nazi occupied territories in the Second World War. The project group is made up by students Yasmine Brigdale, Megan Brown, Emily Langdale, Ellie Speck, and Isabella Watkins.

Our group project focuses on the Kindertransport system in Gloucester and, more specifically, the lives of ten Jewish boys who found refuge in a hostel near the Kingsholm area during the Second World War. We chose to study this topic not only because of a key interest in our city’s historic role in aiding refugees, but also because it feels very relevant to what is going on in the world at present with the current refugee crises in places such as Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. One of the goals of our research is to present a study of the experiences of the ten boys during their time as refugees in Gloucester. We also aim to reflect on what legacy this may have left for Gloucestershire today.

We have been visiting the Gloucestershire Archives and Heritage Hub (GA) at least once a week to study the Kindertransport materials. The archival sources will form the focus of our first display panel, which will outline the start of the Kindertransport programme in Gloucester and the founding of relevant charities and committees, such as the Gloucester Association for Aiding Refugees (GAAR). It was organisations such as GAAR that were responsible for finding suitable accommodation, education and training for refugee children in Gloucester, until they were old enough to move on. We have also become familiar with some of the significant figures who played a very active role in running these organisations, including Mrs Hall. We hope to explore how these developments led to the establishment of the hostel in Alexandra Road, and what role these organisations continued to play in supporting the ten boys.

Appeal for British women to provide homes for the rescued children.

Alongside this, we have been working with staff at GA, who have helped us to access information relating to an upcoming film about the hostel. We have been put in contact with relatives of the Jewish boys and the Arnsteins. Interviews conducted with Michael Zorek, Jenney Valley and Angela Willis have provided us with a real insight into what life in the hostel was like, from leisure activities, including their attendance at a youth group in Gloucester, to how their basic necessities were met and financed. We have also learnt that their religious education and practice was still very much encouraged: a Rabbi from Birmingham came to meet with the boys. Our goal is to continue making connections with the families. Not only has this been extremely informative, but we also believe this to be a valuable element of our research. This will help to shape the middle section of our project, where we hope to build a profile of the boys during their time in Gloucester, as well as their lives after the hostel’s closure in 1942.

The final part of our project will discuss the legacy of the Kindertransport programme and what existing charities in the local area are doing today. In this part, we hope to track the importance of refugee aid for the ten boys, as well as for the many other young people in Gloucester during the Second World War, and how this is still extremely relevant to current global issues. We have been in contact with two local organisations: Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees (https://www.cheltenhamwelcomesrefugees.org.uk/) and Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (GARAS: https://www.garas.org.uk/). These have been really helpful in offering insights into the workings of the charities both historically and at present.

We are also planning to help fundraising efforts for a blue plaque to be placed outside the address on Alexandra Road in June. Any surplus money will be donated to GARAS.

Abolitionism in Gloucestershire: Samuel Bowly

As part of our partnership with the City Voices programme of the Gloucester History Festival, undergraduate students in History at the University of Gloucestershire are undertaking a number of local history projects for 2022. In this second of four projects, students examine the local abolitionist movement, extending the work conducted by students in 2021. The project group is made up by students Jordan Rosewarne, Lydia Horwell and Callum Hughes.

In this project we are taking a closer look at the life and work of Gloucestershire abolitionist Samuel Bowly (1802-1884). In October 2017 a blue plaque was placed at Bowly’s last residence in 65 Park Road, Gloucester. However, it seems fairly safe to assume that very fee people are aware of the vibrant presence of the abolitionist movement in Gloucestershire, let alone the work of Bowly. Two projects conducted for the Cotswold Centre for History & Heritage in 2021, and exhibited at the Gloucester History Festival demonstrated an active abolitionist presence in both Cheltenham and Gloucester. Our aim is to add to knowledge on this topic by examining the work and local legacies of one of the most significant local abolitionists.

Bowly present in the famous painting by Benjamin Haydon (1840-1) of the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, 1840.

Like many other abolitionists of the 18th and 19th centuries, Bowly was also a Quaker. He was born in Cirencester in 1802 and led a life strictly defined by his faith, and was devoted to aiding enslaved people across the world. He took part in major events throughout his lifetime which will be incorporated into our project, such as the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London held in 1840. This was attended by major abolitionists from both England and the United States. Alongside this, he was also the President of the National Temperance League, and worked towards drawing attention to the damaging effects of alcohol on the human body.

So far, we have been able to find some important documents from Bowly, such as a hand-written letter at Gloucestershire Archives that demonstrate his horror at the conditions on a slave ship. This document will be at the core of our project as it shows the how Bowly learned about the reality of the slave trade. We are now searching for more materials held locally that can help to shed light on the life and legacy of this man. We will also be examining the interweaving nature of his work within both the Temperance movement and the abolitionist cause, to try and add to public knowledge on his accomplishments.

From Department Store to City Campus: the story of the Debenham’s building in Gloucester

As part of our partnership with the City Voices programme of the Gloucester History Festival, undergraduate students in History at the University of Gloucestershire are undertaking a number of local history projects for 2022. In this first of four projects, students examine how the changing function of an important building can give an interesting insight into the city’s change over more than a century. The project group is made up by students Jack Eccles, Nathan Gathercole, Kacper Kwiecinski, and Sophie Phillips.

Our project focuses on the links between the Gloucester community and the Debenham’s building as a retail commercial centre. The Debenham’s building is a testament to the growth of the retail economy in Gloucester and to its links with the local community.

Engraved on the Debenham’s building are the dates 1909 and 1914, which indicate the expansion of the building and also the growth of retail shopping in Gloucester. After the First World War, Gloucester city centre was seen as an area where the growth of the local economy could be further developed. In the 1920s, what is now Kings Square used to be King’s Street and St Aldridge Street. King’s Street is now Kings Walk. The city’s first department store, Bon Marche, owned by Drapery Trust, was opened on Northgate Street in 1889 by John Rowe Pope. In the late 1920s, a new building was constructed near to the site of the original shop.

After the Second World War, large retail businesses opened in Gloucester, and these began to displace some of the existing local businesses. Kings Square became a retail centre to rival the city of Bristol. In 1971, the Bon Marche department store was sold to Debenham’s.

We’ve looked over a number of news articles, interviews, reports and business documents relating to the original building to establish the growth and success of the companies that were located inside it, from the original Bon Marche department store through to the renamed Debenham’s. The building is a perfect case study of the economic growth of Gloucester as a whole. Its rise signalled the coming of a commercial boom in the city, much like its later decline came to reflect the downturn of city centre retail in the early 21st century.

The impact of the building can be seen beyond its economic function. It became a true hotspot for the community by offering a space, being proactive and, more importantly, creative in its engagement with the local population. Minute books show how the employees and management were committed to the idea that the building should serve as more than just a department store. It was also a communal space that hosted events, participated in parades, and did so by engaging the entire staff. This community outlook proved to be incredibly successful. Many people fondly recall their time spent at Debenham’s. In many ways, the picture we are drawing from our research can be compared to that of mall culture in North America during the 1980s.

It is both of these factors put together that give our project a critical understanding of how the Debenham’s building was truly a crucial and important part of the city. Its evolution is closely tied to the development of Gloucester as a whole. This gives profound meaning to its legacy as the building is currently being remodelled as the University of Gloucestershire City Campus.

Planned design for the new City Campus on King’s Square.

Our project aims to uncover and show these developments to a wider audience so that this building’s unique history can be shared and understood as we move into the next phase of Gloucester’s life.

African American Abolitionists in Gloucester

This year, our students are working on a number of important local history projects covering the hidden lives of prominent women, exploring the experiences of lockdown, and uncovering links with slavery. All the projects will be exhibited in September as part of the ‘City Voices’ programme of the Gloucester History Festival. This post is one of five projects, and explores the visits of former American slaves to Britain in the 19th century. Group members include Bethan Burley, Abbie Coleman, Alivia Middleton, Rebecca Taylor.

Our project focuses on African American abolitionists that visited Gloucestershire in the 19th century. We are examining their impact on the abolitionist movement as a whole, along with the methods they used in order to bring about the abolition of slavery. Going into this project, we knew a little bit about abolitionists in America. However, we knew nothing about the work of African American abolitionists in England, the impact that they had whilst here, or even the reasons why they came to England in the first place.

The connections between slavery and Gloucestershire are evident over hundreds of years. One of the earliest relevant documents dates from 1603. In England, slavery wasn’t abolished until 1834, and because of the amount of money generated in Gloucestershire through the operations of the slave trade, there was a good deal of local resistance to the abolitionist movement. British and American abolitionists joined forces in the call to end slavery, delivering lectures hosted across the county.

Our project focuses on four African American abolitionists that were identified in the work of Hannah Rose Murray, and the Frederick Douglass in Britain and Ireland project: Moses Roper, William Wells Brown and William and Ellen Craft, all of whom delivered talks in Gloucestershire in favour of the abolition of slavery.

Moses Roper was one of the first escaped slaves to travel to Britain, and his very first lecture was delivered in Gloucestershire. With the aid of British abolitionists, Roper gained a university education and told gruesome stories of his experiences on the slave farms in North Carolina and Florida.

William Wells Brown was a prominent African American abolitionist lecturer, novelist and historian in the United States. His time in Britain had a lasting impact. His personal objectives indicated his desire to educate others on the wrongs that were still being committed towards slaves and the free coloured people in both America and Britain. He often addressed the issues of slavery as a lecturer and a fugitive tourist. His success is reflected in a growing audience that sparked conversations and debates, benefiting his work as an anti-slave activist.

William and Ellen Craft made their escape from slavery to north America in December 1848 travelling by train. Their escape was made easier by Ellen’s ability to cross dress and pass William off as her servant. When they were threatened by the fugitive slave act, they emigrated to England. They continued their work as abolitionists by giving lectures across the country. They later returned to the United States where they set up education facilities for freed slaves’ children.

One of the main resources we’ve used in this project is the British Newspaper Archives. British newspapers included articles on all of the abolitionists we’re looking at and although there was not much on them in Gloucestershire the information provided for their travels throughout the country has allowed us to form an impression of what they may have done during their time in Gloucester and Cheltenham.

Overall, we aim to highlight how much of an impact these African American abolitionists had in Gloucestershire by reviewing what they did, what they said, how they interacted with other abolitionists and their contribution to the fight for racial equality.

Legacies of slave ownership in Gloucestershire

This year, our students are working on a number of important local history projects covering the hidden lives of prominent women, exploring the experiences of lockdown, and uncovering links with slavery. All the projects will be exhibited in September as part of the ‘City Voices’ programme of the Gloucester History Festival. This post is one of five projects, and explores the legacies of slave ownership in and around Gloucester, and includes Joe Richardson, Harry Scott, Stephen Walmsley.

The Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 awoke a desire in many to learn more about our past and to question what we see around us. Many people wanted to gain further knowledge of the slave trade, a topic often brushed over in school, and many, ourselves included, wanted to know in what ways wealth generated by slavery is still visible. This project provides us with the opportunity to explore these questions in a case study of Gloucestershire. We aim to explore some of the legacies of the slave trade that are still visible in Gloucester and Gloucestershire.

Initially, we investigated how the abolition of slavery came about in Britain and its empire. There were two key pieces of legislation. First, the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act allowed for the confiscation of all ships involved in the slave trade. The 1807 Act also imposed fines on slave ship masters of £100 per slave if they tried to transport thereafter. Second, the 1834 Abolition Act had two sections: one emancipated the slaves, and the other compensated the slave owners. This act saw over £20,000,000 (over £2.4bn in today’s money) given in compensation to over 3,000 slave owning families. This was around 5% of GDP and 40% of the national budget. The money borrowed to pay this compensation was only paid off in 2015.

Next, we used the University College London (UCL) website Legacies of British slave-ownership to identify the names of known slave owners of Gloucester who received compensation after 1834. We then used a range of archives and digital archives, including the British Newspaper Archive, to explore further the individuals found on the UCL website. We found eleven people in Gloucester, or the villages just outside of the city, who received compensation. Of these eleven, we were able to find some more detailed information in archives and from records kept by local history societies, although this is still an ongoing process.

We found Rev. George Wilson Bridges. Bridges served as a vicar in two parishes in Jamaica and then served as rector as St. Giles Church in Maisemore, a village just outside Gloucester, from 1844-1846. He returned to Gloucestershire as vicar at Beachley from 1858-1863. He received just over £87 in compensation for three slaves, but this was not the main way that Bridges profited from slavery. Bridges earnt an annual income of between £500 and £2000 from baptising slaves whilst he was serving in Jamaica. With this money, he was able to fund a decade of travel around the world developing photography, something for which he is remembered. This example shows two aspects of slavery: first, the way people could indirectly profit from slavery; and second, one of the ways people spent the money they made from it, including pursuing a hobby.

People also invested their wealth. For example, George Henry Ames received over £45,000 in compensation for sixteen slave estates and made significant investments in the Great Western Cotton Company. Henry Sealy received £393 in compensation, and he invested a total of £2,500 in the York and Carlisle railway. Sealy was not the only Gloucestershire slave owner to invest in railways. These examples demonstrate that profit from the slave trade remains ingrained in many aspects of modern life in ways that are extremely easy to miss, such as the development of a railway network.

Badminton House as mentioned above (https://www.badmintonestate.com)

Another visible aspect of wealth from the slave trade is in the country estates around Gloucestershire. These were the ideal purchase for wealthy slave traders and merchants from Bristol. There were at least ten country estates in Gloucestershire that saw money from slavery invested in them, including one of the most famous in the country: Badminton House. Badminton benefitted from a £20,000 refurbishment in late 17th century by its owner, Henry Somerset, who had extraordinarily strong links to the slave trade.

Even though the project is ongoing, the examples listed in this post demonstrate that money from the slave trade can be seen in many aspects of modern life even in areas that one might not expect.

The Life and Legacies of George Whitefield

This post comes from Rebecca Chivers, Josh Oliver and Frankie Stanley.

The recent controversy over the removal of Confederate monuments in the United States, and even colonial figures such as Admiral Lord Nelson in Britain, has focused attention on the ways in which national ‘heroes’ and more problematic historical figures are and should be remembered. Our project provides one example by focusing on Gloucester-born George Whitefield, the 18th century evangelist credited with promoting a Protestant revival in Britain and its American colonies.

Whitefield’s childhood and early life are a pivotal part of our project, as they played an important role in his development as a charismatic and inspirational. His interest in acting and theatre whilst growing up was crucial in how he became such an influential and famous figure throughout Great Britain and the American colonies. His experiences acting on stage made him an incredibly captivating preacher. 

Whitefield is popularly known as a prominent evangelist preacher that sparked surges of religious interest in the American colonies during the 18th century, part of what was known as the ‘Great Awakening.’ However, his endorsement of slavery in Georgia and religious justifications for the enslavement of Africans have rarely been acknowledged. Even Gloucestershire tourist websites have taken advantage of his Gloucestershire connection but have not shed light on this controversial past. Although his charity work funding the Bethesda Orphanage in Georgia (that founded his advocacy of slavery), his interest in the religious education and conversion of African American slaves and protest of the physical abuse of slaves complicates the picture of his ethical blind spots.

As well as Whitefield’s approach to slavery and his early life and childhood, our group will be researching his involvement in the foundation of the Methodist movement of Christianity, and his relationship with the Wesley brothers, Charles and John. This approach will also naturally detail his upbringing and education, especially the time he spent at Pembroke College in Oxford. This will also lead into Whitefield’s journey to the American colonies and the missionary work , which eventually led to his rise to fame. It was the Wesley brothers who convinced Whitefield to travel to America, so the relationship between the three of them will be an important aspect of our project, especially when looking at the tensions and difficulties which later occurred during their lives.    

Whitfield Tabernacle built in 1741, Historic England

Our group project is to investigate the controversial legacy of Whitefield, how Gloucestershire should remember him and how Whitefield shows the complicated relationship between religion and slavery. In recent years, historians have explored Whitefield’s religious theodicy and conflicted views on slavery, which meant that it would be difficult for our group to uncover new information. Therefore, we concluded that our group would present a broad display of Whitefield’s life, his American preaching, his humanitarianism and his murky connection to slavery so that the audience can arrive at their own conclusions on how they, and Gloucestershire, should remember him.

Gloucester History Festival 2019: the CC4HH Exhibits

The programme for this year’s Gloucester History Festival is finally here, and we’re very excited that the student projects conducted for CC4HH will be displayed in two separate exhibits throughout the festival. These are part of the Festival’s ‘City Voices’ programme which explores aspects of local history and heritage. The theme for this year is ‘Power and the People’.

Firstly, the projects exploring Gloucester’s Windrush Generation and Gloucestershire’s LGBTQ+ community will be exhibited at the Eastgate Shopping Centre (see pic above) in Gloucester from the 7th to the 21st of September. The projects exploring Cheltenham’s history, which include life in the workhouses, a history of Pittville, and the Heritage Lottery funded project led by Dr David Howell ‘Cheltenham: Diasporas’ will be exhibited at the Chapel Arts gallery on Knapp road in Cheltenham from 4th to the 14th September. After this date, these exhibits will be relocated to the Quad Walk Gallery in the Francis Close Hall campus library at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham. Ultimately, all the exhibits will be made available on the website. Here’s a sneak preview of a couple of the panels from the Windrush and Workhouses projects.

We’re very much looking forward to this year’s exhibits, which will be the third year in the life of the Centre, and the second year of collaboration with the Festival.